An Open Letter to Our Community has been posted in the Mason Library in response to alleged minority harassment occurring on the Keene State College (KSC) campus and in the Keene community.

The letter, sent out by the Keene State College Educational Outreach, was posted in response to “a series of race-based and ethnic incidents of harassment of minority college students, graduate students and Keene citizens.”

Despite these serious accusations, Tom White, the Coordinator of Education Outreach at the Cohen Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, assured that besides the swastikas burnt into a bathroom ceiling of Carle Hall, no other specific cases of harassment were recorded as a hate crime at Keene State College. “This is basically a response to things we’ve been hearing in the community,” White said, meaning outside of the Keene State College campus.

This past February, Keene Mayor Kendall W. Lane made a public statement regarding race-based incidents that occurred at Keene State College and Antioch University New England. Although the details of the incident were never revealed, Mayor Kendall Lane proclaimed, “… at least three Antioch students are considering leaving the school because they feel unsafe in this community.”

White also mentioned an anecdotal case of race-based harassment that happened in the Keene community. “At the Kristallnacht Commemoration in the fall, two Muslim American children were targeted by their white neighbors.” Although he had limited information about the incident, he explained, “We need to respond to things like that; it’s our communal duty.”

Police response

Newly appointed Keene Police Chief Steven Russo, offered a single comment on the alleged series of race-based incidents in our community. “I would be hesitant to say that these crimes are ‘prevalent’ or that there have been a series of them, we have had very few reports, though one is too many.”

However, through the past two years, the Associated Press has reported there has been a lack of hate crime statistics being released from New Hampshire municipal police departments. Initially, the FBI annual report of hate crime statistics revealed that hate crimes in New Hampshire are lower than elsewhere.

According to a report by the Boston Globe, New Hampshire municipal and local police departments are lagging in reporting hate crime statistics: “FBI statistics suggest hate crimes are less common in New Hampshire than elsewhere, but an Associated Press analysis shows many law enforcement agencies are failing to file the requested reports.” The report referenced the AP, associated press, which released that New Hampshire municipality police departments are not reporting 28% of these hate crimes; this encompasses 57 municipal police departments and 6 county sheriff offices that did not file reports from 2009-2014, and 19 towns that missed at least one year of reporting.

Keene Police Department did not respond to repeated requests for a comment on this matter.

In an email exchange between White and the late Keene Police Chief, Brian Costa, Title LXII of Criminal Code was shared amongst friends to discuss policies concerning harassment.

Under section 644:4, harassment is a misdemeanor crime and the guilty party is subject to prosecution. There are a number of incidents which could qualify as harassment, one of them being, “Insults, taunts, or challenges another in a manner likely to provoke a violent or a disorderly response.”

Student comments 

Keene State first year Patrick Holden referenced an incident which occurred in middle school that he thought constituted as a hate crime. “There was this half-black kid in our school who people used to call ‘Jamaican Beef Patty,’ and I think that comment can constitute as a hate crime,” he said. Although he acknowledges some people’s name-calling is intended to be playful and comedic, others can use it maliciously. “Whether harm was intended or not, those types of comments can hurt people regardless,” he said.

As for the swastikas burnt onto the bathroom ceiling of Carle Hall, Holden said, “I don’t think this was intended to target jewish people — honestly, I think there is more of a disrespect problem on campus than a hate crime problem.”

First-year student Taylor Lindquist, expressed her concern on how verbal harassment breaches our freedom of speech. “People have to be more careful nowadays about what they say. Anything can be construed as harassment,” she said.

When asked if she thought hate crimes were prevalent on campus she responded, “No. I even think the swastika’s were more a vandalism crime than a hate crime. Personally I just think that no threat was intended… it’s just teenagers thinking they’re funny.” She expressed concern about the fines for the recurring vandalism and property damage of her dormitory. “Carle Hall gets vandalized all the time by random people and I have the fines to prove it,” she said.

KSC senior Margaret Maloy,  stated that name-calling is in fact a hate crime. “If I saw something severe enough to constitute as a hate crime, I would call Campus Safety or report it to the administration… most likely before calling the local police,” she said.

Maloy shared that she was an Orientation leader in previous years and had some training there on how to deal with harassment or hate crimes. “We worked a lot with how to deal with cases involving transgender students. I got basic training on how to approach tense situations like that,” she said.

When asked if she would contact the local police about verbal harassment, such as malicious name-calling, Maloy admitted first she’d have to decipher between playful teasing and harassment. She said, “I think that I would be able to use my judgement in order to read the situation… I wouldn’t call the police immediately unless the problem escalated.”

The Open Letter to Our Community is available to sign in the Mason Library or online at thepetitionsite.com. Any questions can be directed to Tom White., the Coordinator of Educational Outreach, who can be found in the Cohen Center of the library.

Katie Jensen can be contacted at kjensen@kscequinox.com